When I talk to my friends about filing a VA claim, I hear the same response: “Isn’t there a checklist for this stuff?” It’s a fair question. Whether you spent four or 34 years in the military, we are all very familiar with “the checklist.”
There were safety checklists, pre-flight checklists, checklists for deployments, changes of station, adding dependents, and the longest checklist I remember – the separation/retirement checklist. In the military, we like checklists about as much as we like acronyms because they keep things simple. We hear you – VA needs a checklist on how to file a digital claim for compensation through our new Fully Developed Claims program (FDC) – the fastest way to get a decision. Here it is:
1) WHAT IS FDC? A program designed to rapidly process VA compensation claims.
2) WHAT KIND OF RECORDS DO YOU NEED? Military personnel and treatment records are vital to establishing your claim for compensation. Military personnel records can contain deployment orders, pay records, medals and certificates not reflected on the DD-214. Obviously, your military treatment records may keep a log of any conditions or injuries you suffered in service. Other federal records, like those from Social Security Administration (SSA), are often necessary too – they may contain a lot of medical evidence and sometimes even evidence as to the cause of a disability. Non-federal records, like medical files from your private doctor, are also important to establishing your claim. These can tell us the degree of your condition, if it has become worse over time and general information needed for rating purposes.
3) WHY SUBMIT AN FDC? You get a faster decision because it saves VA time. When you file a claim, the law requires VA to make an exhaustive search on your behalf to obtain service records and other relevant evidence held by federal agencies and requires VA to ask at least twice for relevant evidence held by private parties, unless we get them on the first request. This translates into months of waiting for evidence before VA can decide your claim. By submitting all your evidence with your FDC, identifying any relevant records held by federal agencies and verifying that you have no more evidence to submit, you shave a lot of the wait time off the process.
With an FDC, VA will still collect all federal records you identify. What we won’t do is spend time asking for non-federal records like private medical files. We also won’t ask for National Guard and Reserve medical and personnel records, which are usually in the custody of your unit or state. So, if you are or were in the National Guard or Reserve, make sure you go to your units and obtain those records. Right now, it takes us more than 300 days on average to obtain National Guard and Reserve records, and if you don’t submit them with your FDC, we will have to process your claim the traditional way.
There is no risk in filing an FDC — if we find that there is a piece of relevant evidence you did not submit, but should have included (like private medical records), we will obtain that evidence on your behalf and process your claim the traditional way.
4) HOW DO I FILE AN FDC?
The Fully Developed Claims checklist (click to expand)
Go on to the internet and log on to your eBenefits account
. Click Apply for Benefits
and then Apply for Disability Compensation
eBenefits will guide you through the process. You can answer the questions and upload all your supporting evidence all at once, or you can start and save your claim online, collect your supporting evidence and log back in to finish applying.
Once you hit Save, you have one year to return to eBenefits, upload your evidence and click Submit. Don’t forget to save – in many cases VA may be able to pay benefits as early as the date you first save that application. Your Veterans Service Officer can also log into the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal – a VSO’s window into your eBenefits account – to look over your claim and give you advice before you press Submit.
5) WHERE IS THAT CHECKLIST YOU PROMISED? Follow the checklist below to make sure you submit the right type of evidence for your compensation FDC claim. If you have questions about what is relevant, call VA at 1-800-827-1000 or contact your VSO:
Identify Federal Records, if any (not all of these may apply to your claim)
- If you received VA medical care, tell us where and when
- Tell us if you receive Social Security benefits for a service-related disability
- Tell us where your Military Treatment or Personnel Records are, if you know, or where your last duty station was
- Identify any other relevant records in the custody of a federal agency, like federal worker’s compensation (OWCP) or the Public Health Service
If you have a copy of your Military Treatment or Personnel records, or records from other federal agencies, save time by submitting them with your claim by uploading them to eBenefits. If not, VA will go get them, but this will slow down the claim.
Gather Records (not all of these may apply to your claim)
- If your private doctor is treating you for a service-related disability, get a copy of those records
- If you don’t believe the incident is recorded in you military records, get statements from you, your friends or family explaining in detail why you should be service connected
- If you are or were a National Guard / Reserve member: include all service medical and personnel records in the custody of your unit (Collecting and submitting these will expedite your decision because they are difficult for VA to collect). VERY IMPORTANT!
Upload the documents you gathered to eBenefits
- Scan the documents
- Under the Upload Documents tab, select Manage Files
- Upload your documents
Verify you have No More Evidence
- If you have additional evidence to collect and submit, SAVE your record now. You have one year to collect and upload additional evidence. During this time, a VSO can log-on, view your application online and provide guidance on filing an FDC before you submit the claim. When you have finished uploading your evidence you are ready to
6) MORE ABOUT COLLECTING AND SUBMITTING EVIDENCE
To get the fastest, most accurate claims decision, collect and submit the following evidence along with your online application:
Private health care: It’s important to collect and send all of your relevant private medical records. This reduces the time it takes VA to request and wait for these documents from your private physician.
Statements from friends and family: These optional statements may be useful to describe when onset of your disability, details about the injury or event that caused your disability (if they were there and saw it), and the disability’s impact on you. These types of statements are especially helpful if the disability or event or injury that caused the disability is not recorded in your military records.
Personal statements: You are your own best advocate. While VA and VSOs stand by ready to assist, both need to hear from you why you think you should be service-connected, especially if the incident or condition is not recorded in your military records.
Once you have collected all your supporting evidence, log back into eBenefits and upload all your documents. There is no limit to number of documents you can upload, but each file must be 5 megabytes or smaller (about 150 black and white pages at 300 resolution). Once you verify that you have no more evidence, VA can start processing your claim right away. If you do submit more evidence after you submit the claim, VA will remove your claim from the FDC program and process it through our regular channels. For more tips on submitting your claim, click here.
The FDC program is the fastest way to get an accurate decision on your VA claim. By ensuring you submit all your evidence with your claim, you allow us to get you an accurate decision as quickly as possible.
Cat Trombley is a public affairs specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration. Prior to working for VA, she was an assistant director at a Veteran Service Organization and represented Veterans before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. She is also an Air Force Veteran.